In previous years, Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission has been funded to expand the genetic baseline for Chinook salmon with microsatellite markers and more recently single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP) markers. While this has provided moderate improvement to baselines used for genetic stock identification (GSI), new technology is available that allows for vastly increasing the number of SNPs that can be added to baseline populations. This new technology uses an approach called Restriction-site Associated DNA (RAD) tags to genotype thousands of SNPs in baseline samples. This should provide a nearly unlimited number of powerful markers for GSI purposes and greatly improve the resolution and accuracy of mixed stock analyses.
Trapper Lake was identified as a potential sockeye salmon enhancement site in 1988 due to its under-utilized sockeye fry rearing potential. Several enhancement programs involving out-planted sockeye were attempted since, but were unsuccessful either due to out-plant and fish culture techniques or because of changes to the spawning and rearing habitat. It was observed that returning sockeye salmon from this enhancement program were nearly successful at negotiating a partial barrier near the outlet of Trapper Lake. This, coupled with the identified presence of non-anadromous sockeye (kokanee) suggested that Little Trapper Lake origin sockeye had negotiated the barrier in the past and may presently do so under certain water conditions. Improving the access for returning sockeye to Trapper Lake could result in a sustained increase in overall sockeye production from the Taku River.
A sockeye enhancement program has been ongoing at Tatsamenie Lake since 1990. A review of the program was funded by the Northern Fund in 2005, and in 2008, the Northern Fund began supporting the Extended Sockeye Fry Rearing Project.
The fry were originally reared in lake pens, but because of a devastating disease outbreak, the project shifted to onshore rearing systems beginning in 2009. The egg to smolt survivals of the fed fry have been variable but have ranged from 10% to 70%, or 5 to 15 times compared to wild fry, depending on fry behaviour after outplanting. Assessment of adult production from this project is ongoing. Smolt to adult survivals of the reared fry will be definitively determined with the return of the corresponding adults in the coming years, but to date, the adult production from reared fry has been lower than expected. This project continues to test a technique that has the potential of increasing production for other small scale sockeye salmon enhancement projects as well as rebuilding the Tatsamenie Lake sockeye stock in low brood year cycles.
Also at Tatsamenie Lake, the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans began a smolt enumeration program in 1996, and this ran continuously from 1998 through to 2011. The Northern Fund began supporting this program in 2012, and the two programs were combined in 2015. The combination allowed the Tatsamenie Lake sockeye smolt mark-recapture project to extend beyond its previous end date of June 30, through to the second week of September. This provides a more accurate smolt population estimate as well as increased precision of the estimated enhanced sockeye survival and production. This also allows for monitoring of potential early out-migration of the reared fry.
The Kitwanga River is a biologically rich tributary of the Skeena River that produces a significant portion of the overall Skeena salmon that return each year. Kitwanga River sockeye are of significant importance because they are genetically unique, and Gitanyow Lake, in the Kitwanga watershed, is one of the ten largest sockeye producing lakes in the Skeena Watershed. Kitwanga sockeye are also considered a conservation unit as defined in Canada’s Wild Salmon Policy. Historically, Kitwanga sockeye numbered in the tens of thousands, but due to drastic declines in abundance, Kitwanga sockeye are no longer directly fished commercially or harvested for Food, Social and Ceremonial purposes.
The enumeration of Kitwanga sockeye has been ongoing since 2000, first through the operation of a temporary fence in the upper part of the watershed, and then through the operation of the Kitwanga River Salmon Enumeration Facility (KSEF) located near the mouth of the Kitwanga River. The KSEF has been in operation for the last 12 years and has proven to be an extremely important in-season/post-season fisheries management tool. Despite this, no long-term funding has been secured to operate the KSEF on a yearly basis. In the past few years, the cost to operate the facility has been variously shared by the Gitanyow Fisheries Authority, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Pacific Salmon Commission, Pacific Salmon Foundation and Skeena Wild Conservation Trust.